Yes, I know. Dragon Age II came out forever ago. But I only got it recently and didn’t want to review it until I was done playing it (and by playing it, I mean buying it for about $5, getting the Platinum trophy, and promptly trading the game in). And now that I’ve played it, I can say with 100% certainty that it was unequivocally, unabashedly, completely, utterly, positively… okay.
Before I go on, I have to say this: The first one was a better game, but it was a bitch to play effectively on my PS3. But, my PC would be more useful to me if I stuffed it in my garage, plugged a pastrami sandwich into my wall, and just used that to run PC games. Dragon Age II was much better suited to a console… which is not necessarily a good thing.
You see, the reason it was better suited to a console (besides being a whole lot less buggy and laggy) was because everything was simplified and dumbed down, even the conversations, replacing the full responses from the first game that let you know exactly what you’re saying to the vague Mass Effect style dialogue wheel where the wheel might say one thing, but your character says something completely different. But it doesn’t matter, because you picked the choice at the top of the wheel so no matter what you say, you’re getting friendship points with the person you’re talking to (and yes, there are friendship points. Though to be fair, there were in the first game, too). Only, where Mass Effect had the Paragon and Renegade branches of conversation, Dragon Age II had the Paragon, Renegade, and Snide Prick branches of conversation.
To explain, you are always going to be a goody-two-shoes, an overly aggressive butthole, or a sarcastic douche face.
In the first game, there were a great deal of full, detailed responses to choose from and it wasn’t always clear which choice would make the person you were talking to happy. It made the conversations interesting, plausible, and they kind of felt like actual conversations.
That’s the problem I have with Mass Effect/Dragon Age II conversations is that you can go through the whole game without paying attention to a single conversation. Just pick the top one or the blue one and boom, instant Paragon, no attention span required.
BioWare in their infinite wisdom (ha!), decided to make Dragon Age II more like Mass Effect, and I hate that. I really liked Mass Effect, and I really liked Dragon Age: Origins. But I liked them for entirely different reasons. I liked them because they were so different. Playing Dragon Age II, I felt BioWare was just saying, “Ooh, look! It’s Mass Effect, but with swords and a whole lot less interesting!”
Speaking of being less interesting than Mass Effect, the story… is not horrible. But there realy aren’t any subplots that aren’t the backstories of the other characters. It basically just boils down to, “Templars and mages don’t like each other. Fix it.” Yes, it’s a little more complex than that and there is a big thing with the qunari (more on them later). But I feel like they just put the qunari subplot in there because there was almost no qunari related stuff in the first game. And honestly, the qunari subplot doesn’t really do anything to change the story, because it ends pretty much the same way no matter how you handle it. And once it’s resolved, it goes right back to templars vs. mages with almost no mention of the qunari story again. I think the biggest problem that I have with the story is that they skim way too much. At the beginning of the game, you get to join up with either a band of mercenaries or a band of smugglers. And then a year passes and you don’t get to see anything that happened with them. They only make vague allusions to the things you did during that time you didn’t see. Then you do some stuff, and suddenly three more years pass. Then three more. All with minimal (or no) mention of what happened during that time. And that bugs the shit out of me. There’s also almost barely any mention of the events of the first game.
And that brings me to another problem: the qunari. Now, here’s what Sten, the only qunari in Dragon Age: Origins looks like:
This is what the qunari look like in Dragon Age II:
That’s, uh… quite the makeover. But honestly, I’m cool with the cosmetic changes. In the first game, the qunari just seemed like really tall, boring humans that don’t know how to express their emotions. Giving them horns at least made them look more interesting.
My problem lies with how they act. Now, if Sten can be taken as an average qunari, they are devout in their belief system and confused by many of the actions of others, but still eager to explain his beliefs to those that asked.
In Dragon Age II, BioWare decided to turn them into (as my younger brother put it) Islamic Devil-Borgs. They go from devout to downright fanatic and they go from confused and indifferent towards that actions of others to outwardly hostile and murderous. This is how a typical conversation with the Arishok goes:
“Panahedan. I hate all of you basra. My religion is fucking awesome, and yours can suck a bowl of dicks! I hate humans and your city. I also hate other things. Grr… [more qunari words]. You’re all really stupid for not follwing my religion because you are all [qunari word]. [colorful insults].”
Honestly. Every conversation, all he does is spout hate for everything besides his religion and speak the qunari version of Spanglish!
But enough on that. I think it’s time we move on to the other characters that join you.
They were probably my favorite part of the game. Most of them were kind of flat, but likable. Varric, the dwarf, is probably my favorite. He’s sly and laid-back at never reveals much about himself, giving you the sense that he’s hiding something. And though it’s never revealed, it still made him interesting. The others… not so much. Like I said, they’re likable, but I can give you all the information you need about them in one sentence each:
Bethany/Carver: “Hi, I’m the main character’s brother/sister.”
Aveline: “I’m a good person.”
Anders: “I’m the mage version of Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins.”
Merrill: “I’m really dense and ditsy and my clan doesn’t approve of my actions. I’m also Scottish for some reason.”
Fenris: “I don’t like Tevinter, mages, or being a slave.”
Isabella: “I’m a slutty pirate with a phenomenal rack.”
Sure, it’s slightly more complex than that, but all of their actions always come back to those flat descriptions.
Exploring the world is a joke. The game reuses maps to a nauseating degree. If you enter a cave, you can bet it’s one of maybe two maps, just with certain paths blocked for inexplicable reasons. You fight the same variety of enemies constantly, occasionally coming across things like demons and dragons (imagine that). You only encounter the darkspawn (you know, the entire driving force of the first game and perhaps the greatest threat to civilization the world has ever known) about four times.
All in all, the game feels rushed and lazy… Mostly because it was rushed and the people at BioWare are generally pretty lazy. I enjoyed playing through the game enough, but there were so many parts that needed to be fleshed out. The only reason I decided to get the Platinum Trophy is because I’ve made it a personal goal of mine to get the Platinum Trophy in every BioWare game I play on my PS3 (so far, I’ve succeeded).
Gameplay: 5/10: It’s all just… okay.
Music: 4/10: There’s not a single memorable song. But there are also no horrible ones.
Graphics: 8/10: They’re an improvement over the last game.
Story: 7/10: Not so much for lack of story, but rather the lack of storytelling.
Verdict: I was worth the $5 I spent on it… but not much more. I think even a 6 is being generous.